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Science has not positively identified the place and time when the first human beings inhabited the earth. About the only thing certain is that the American Continent was the last great landmass to be occupied by humans. Before the coming of humans the Americas were home to several large species of animals, including the Wooly Mammoth, Mastodon, Camels, Giant Sloth, Dire Wolf, Glyptodont, Giant Bison, Peccary, Tapir, Saber Tooth Tiger, Giant Beaver, Bear, and the Horse, as well as many smaller species. Science is not sure why these large animals became extinct, some say they were hunted to extinction by early humans, others say a change in the climate changed their habitat and they were not able to adapt to the change, but whatever the reason, they were extinct by 5,000 to 10,000 B. C. Which of these animals might have roamed the hills and valleys around Canton is hard to say.
All people living in North and South America are immigrants, some simply got here before others. At what date the first human immigrant came to America has not been definitely established. The first wave came from what is now Siberia perhaps as early as 40,000 or 50,000 years ago and crossed the land bridge between Siberia and Alaska. This land bridge was in existence from about 34,000 to 30,000 B.C. and again between 26,000 to 11,000 B.C., and possibly at previous times. The action of the glaciers created ice free corridors for migrating Asian hunters to pass through. Bering Straight that separates Asia from America is only 56 miles wide and 180 feet deep. Because the ice in the glaciers takes water from the oceans, the ocean level falls creating more land and this creates a land bridge for people or animals to cross.
The first immigrants to come were hunters who were following the animals for their existence and found themselves in America without knowing or caring where they were. These first immigrants were primitive people who saw a large area of fertile land with a supply of animals for good hunting. Over a period of several thousand years they migrated to the southern tip of South America and east to the Atlantic Ocean. There is evidence of human habitation in Pennsylvania as early as 14,000 B.C. where layers of human debris have been found, and carbon dating has established the date. While these first inhabitants of Pennsylvania were hunters, they gradually developed an agricultural society supplemented by hunting and fishing. With an abundance of good land for crops, good hunting and fishing, and plenty of wood for shelter and fires, they were able to live a comfortable existence. They gave up their nomadic way of life and settled in villages. They had no beasts of burden nor a written language so it has been difficult to know exactly how they lived before the coming of the white man. Archaeologists have been exploring the villages and campsites of these original Americans and are beginning to give us some insight as to how they lived.
When the white man first came to America, there were four main tribes of natives living in Pennsylvania. The Delawares or Lenni Lenapes occupied the eastern part of the state along the Delaware River, the Susquehannocks were living in the Susquehanna River basin, and the Monongahelas lived in the western part along the Monongahela, Allegheny and Beaver rivers, with the Eries occupying the south shore of Lake Erie. It was the Susquehannocks who lived closest to Canton, but there is no evidence that there were any Indian settlements in the immediate Canton area. The closest one would be at what is now Towanda, Ulster and Athens, plus the Iroquois in southern New York along the Chemung River.
The eastern Indians lived in settled communities, and had a well developed social system. Their civilization was more advanced than most of our history books would have us believe, but their technological development was far less developed than the Europeans who first came here.
In the seventeenth century the Susquehannock Indians were living in the Susquehanna River basin, with the Iroquois living to the north in New York State. The Susquehannocks occupied both the East Branch and the West Branch of the Susquehanna River, with one of their villages at Tioga Point where the Chemung River joins the Susquehanna. This is near present day Athens, Pa. The rivalry between the Iroquois Confederacy and the Susquehannocks brought continued conflict between the two tribes with the Susquehannocks winning the early battles, but by 1675, smallpox and the ravages of war finally diminished their numbers, and they ceased to exist as a military power. After they were defeated by the Iroquois they dispersed where ever they could find a safe haven, and the Iroquois filled the areas left by the Susquehannocks to keep either tribes from settling there.
When the white settlers first came to America, the Indians along the Atlantic coast were gradually displaced, but it was not until the Revolutionary War that those farther inland were affected. The Indians were drawn between the English and the French, and their way of life was affected by the fur trade. They gradually became to depend on European made metal tools and guns, and the only way they could get these was to sell their furs to the trading posts. With the coming of war between England and the Colonies, they were not able to remain neutral for long and found themselves favoring one side or the other. The Iroquois Confederacy took no official stand as to which side to join, and each of the Six Nations decided for themselves. The Mohawks, Onondagas and Senecas decided for the British, while the Oneidas and Tuscaroras decide for the Colonies.
Because the majority of the Iroquois sided with the British, they posed a threat to Colonial safety in the area. In September, 1778, Colonel Thomas Hartley led a scouting party over the Sheshequin Path to the forks of the Susquehanna (Athens), where he destroyed a number of Indian Settlements, including Tioga, Queen Esther’s Town and Old Sheshequin, (Ulster). General Washington considered the Iroquois enough of a threat that he ordered General John Sullivan and General James Clinton to march against the Iroquois to end their domination of the region. On July 31, 1779, General Sullivan set out from Wyoming for Tioga, and General Clinton left from the south end of Otsego Lake. The two forces met at Fort Sullivan, (Tioga) and this force of about 4500 men marched on the Iroquois Territory. A small force of about 600 Indians and British tried to stop them at Newtown, (Elmira), but they were defeated. The Sullivan-Clinton Expedition did not defeat the Iroquois Nation but they did drive them back to Fort Niagara where the British had to support them, and they destroyed their villages and crops. In addition, the expedition served to raise the morale of the Colonial Government.
The soldiers were amazed at the quality of the Iroquois cornfields, being superior to any they had seen before. They were also favorably impressed with the entire countryside, and soon after the war many of the veterans, along with others wanting new land, began to settle the area, and Canton was no exception.
While Canton was surrounded on all four directions by the Indian Villages, this area, if used at all by the Indians, was used only for hunting when game was scarcer near their homes. The early settlers of Canton had little to fear from the Indians.
Bibliography: Roger M. Keagle
Indians in Pennsylvania – Paul A. W. Wallace – 1968
Longhouse Diplomacy and Frontier Warfare – William T. Hagan
It might seem at first glance that Canton has always looked as it appears today, yet if we delve into its past we see this is not true. The earth is ever changing because the inner portion of our planet is in an extremely hot liquid state, and we are living on outer plates of rock and soil. As these plates move they often clash with one another causing earthquakes, and with leakage of lava from the inner bowels of the earth erupting as volcanoes, the earth suffers slow but severe changes. At times the rock plates uplift and create mountains which also change the shape of the earth. In addition, wind and water as well as the freezing and thawing of the earth create even more changes. Even though we see little change during our life span, changes over the centuries are pronounced.
The mountains surrounding Canton are part of the Appalachian chain that extends from Maine to Georgia. This chain of mountain was formed about 200 million years ago, and when first formed, were as rugged as the Alps and Himalayas, but time and erosion have worn them down and taken away their sharp edges. By contrast, the Himalayas, Alps, Rockies and Andes mountains were created only 60 million years ago, so this can give you some idea of how the mountains around Canton might have looked at one time.
The earth has undergone several Ice Ages with their attendant Glaciers. Four times during the past several million years these glaciers have slowly moved from the poles to the temperate zones. As they advanced and retreated they left a different look to the land. If we could have been sitting on a cloud looking down at the landscape during all these changes, and if we could have had modern photographic equipment to record all these changes, we would have a record of all the different upheavals Canton has undergone. As none of this happened, we must use our imagination to try to see how it must have been.
The last and largest of the Ice Ages began a million years ago, and we still have vestiges of this in our far northern and southern latitudes. At one times more than a fourth of the earth's land area was covered with ice which extended as far south as Kentucky. Some ice sheets were two miles deep and in their progress carved out the Great Lakes, the Finger Lakes in New York and the thousands of smaller lakes. In its wake it shaped the valleys in the area where it passed. Lake Nephawin was undoubtedly formed in this way. The last Ice Age reached its climax 10,000 years ago and has been slowly receding since that time. It took several thousand years for the Canton area to assume its present shape. The mountain and forests we are used to seeing today have not always been here.
Roger M. Keagle
Pennsylvania Geology and Mineral Resources by George H. Ashley
Topographic & Geologic Survey. Bulletin G-1 1931
The World We Live In - Time Inc. 1955